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UN Mission in Ivory Coast Seeking to Stop Attacks on Peacekeepers

The head of the U.N. mission in Ivory Coast expects President Laurent Gbagbo to intervene to halt attacks on U.N. personnel. The U.N. official says the president has promised to speak out against the attacks and control his supporters.

A communiqué from President Gbagbo, published Wednesday, said his supporters should let the United Nations do its work without restriction in Ivory Coast.

A day later, two United Nations military observers were attacked by dozens of youths in the southern town of Gagnoa. Their car was destroyed, and the two observers were forced to seek shelter in a local government office, and wait for Bangladeshi peacekeepers to rescue them.

The United Nations Special Representative to Ivory Coast, Pierre Schori, told VOA, he expects the Mr. Gbagbo to control his supporters, known as the Young Patriots, who the U.N. representative believes are responsible for blocking U.N. peacekeepers in several instances. Made up of groups of largely unemployed youths, the Young Patriots have sometimes violently demonstrated in the streets and are against any involvement of the former colonial power, France, in Ivory Coast.

"I have raised this now directly with the president in a serious conversation," he said, "and I have received assurances from him and all his concerned ministers that they deplore this, that they will repeatedly state to the population that we are here on their invitation, we are here to assist the peace process, and, personally, my conclusion is that, only by direct message to the Young Patriots, who are the followers, they say, to the president, that we will get a stop to this."

Mr. Schori says some elements from the Ivorian defense forces have also obstructed the U.N. mission in its work.

Last month, United Nations peacekeepers were blocked, first by government forces and later by local villagers, from entering the town of Agboville, where they went to investigate reports of killings.

Ivorian newspapers supporting President Gbagbo have been increasingly hostile toward the United Nations in recent weeks. Opposition papers say that supporters of President Gbagbo are trying to obstruct the election process ahead of polling scheduled for October.

Mr. Schori says, most Ivorians do not resent the U.N. mission and are sympathetic to its mandate.

"There is a very strong feeling of sympathy of the people of the Cote D'Ivoire towards the United Nations," he said. "I can see and hear myself that we are appreciated here, basically, for security reasons, but also for the amount of humanitarian and other aid projects going on."

Around 6,000 U.N. peacekeepers and 4,000 French troops are deployed in Ivory Coast under a U.N. mandate to monitor a cease-fire between government forces in the south and rebels in the north. Part of the U.N. mandate is to assist the government in disarmament and demobilization, in preparation for the October elections.